Prairie fills girls basketball position

Former UO player Johnson takes over Falcons program

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

A former University of Oregon men's basketball player has been tasked with leading the Prairie girls basketball program.

Brett Johnson, a two-time letterman for the Ducks in 1990 and 1991, was hired last week to take over the most accomplished girls basketball program in the state.

He understands the expectations at Prairie.

"There's no grace period," he said. "People here are serious about girls basketball."

It is a period of transition, though.

Al Aldridge resigned after leading the program to its sixth state championship in 2012. Mike Smith, a former assistant with the Prairie boys program, was hired and lasted one season before resigning.

Prairie looked to the boys basketball program again.

Johnson took over for Smith on the boys coaching staff under head coach Kyle Brooks.

Johnson, 43, has coached AAU and has coached a girls freshman team at Roosevelt High School in Portland but has not been a high school head coach.

Travis Drake, Prairie's athletic director, acknowledged the move might seem "unusual," but he added that head coaching experience does not necessarily make for a right fit.

"Brett has the type of personality that people want to be around. He recognizes the challenges of coaching here at Prairie," Drake said. "He knows what he doesn't know, which is important for any coach. He's excited to learn, excited to take over. He brings with him a lot of confidence."

Johnson was scheduled to meet with his players Monday night, but he said he already knows most of the players in the program.

They should know what to expect from him.

He has been an observer of the girls program for years and this past year, he said, he followed every basket via text messaging in Prairie's final game β€” a loss in the regional playoffs.

He wants the Falcons to get back to an aggressive style.

"We have to learn how to step it up and play in-your-face basketball," Johnson said. "I want intense, aggressive basketball, and we want to push every chance we get."

Johnson said he has reached out to former coach Aldridge. He said the two are playing phone tag, but he is looking forward to the conversation.

Johnson is an electrician and will not be on campus at Prairie. He said he will make it work and hopes to have plenty of help from others who are on campus.

That includes Drake.

"There are things an AD can do to support a head coach, especially in this position," Drake said, noting that a first-year head coach often needs help with organization. "He's already reached out to people in the Prairie basketball community, and he's using them as a resource, which is important.

"Brett wasn't the most experienced candidate, but he's going to do a great job," Drake added. "We need to make sure we're not back in this same position next year."